Erik Bergman honored for being a great communicator

by: VERN UYETAKE - Erik Bergman has gone from being a reluctant new member to being a Distinguished Toastmaster. Along the way he has helped some unlikely people.When he started, Erik Bergman was like any new Toastmaster: scared.

Because of his position as content strategy manager for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (a public relations firm best known for its work for Microsoft) in Lake Oswego, Bergman had become a competent public speaker, even appearing on television and radio. But deep inside he was still the kid scared stiff of public speaking.

“When I was young, I was really scared,” Bergman said. “I was terrified of being the center of attention at the front of the room. Later, I knew I could speak, but I didn’t feel confident.”

But Bergman was just a normal person. Surveys show that public speaking is people’s No. 1 fear. Death comes in second.

Now, Bergman has totally turned that situation around. He was recently awarded the medal of Distinguished Toastmaster from Toastmasters International, a worldwide organization dedicated to improving the communications, public speaking and leadership skills of its members. Bergman achieved a distinction that goes to only one in a thousand Toastmasters, for his accomplishments as the leader of WE Toasted, the highly successful Toastmasters Club at Waggener Edstrom. Not only can Bergman now stand in front of a crowd and not wish he was dead, he is a confident, charismatic communicator who has not only reached all Toastmasters goals himself but also has inspired many other people to become accomplished Toastmasters. It feels so good.

“People can overcome their fears,” Bergman said. “It is very satisfying to achieve goals and mark them off — not just because you get a nice certificate, but because you achieve tools to live with.”

It was six years ago that Bergman, at first reluctantly, became a Toastmaster. He was put on the spot by a friend at Waggener Edstrom, who had just formed a new Toastmasters Club. Bergman gave in to a guilty conscience and social pressure. He even became club president. Reluctantly, of course. But for a long time it seemed he had made a bad decision.

“It took a couple years for this club to get going,” Bergman said. “We were a small club fumbling our way along. We had no momentum.”

Momentum finally showed up in the form of Dan Hahn, a Lake Oswego Toastmaster, who became the little club’s guiding light.

“Dan was exactly the right person for us,” Bergman said. “He totally believed in us. He was with us a year and a half, and we wouldn’t have survived without him. The club hadn’t accomplished much in two years, but then it really took off.

“I found myself taking on duties I never thought I would — club officer, area officer. I realized I was very close to achieving some goals, which was a surprise. I thought I would go for it. I couldn’t conceive of giving 40 speeches in a year.”

Now, no one builds up members of WE Toasted more than Bergman. Like Hahn before him, he supports, praises and transforms his comrades.

“If you’re brave enough to come to our meetings, you deserve our support,” he said.

Bergman has a very promising protégé in a newcomer to Waggener Edstrom, assistant account executive Sarah Linker. For all of her charm and intelligence, she has painful memories of sitting in her college classes and being afraid to contribute to discussions. Linker is now the new president of WE Toasted.

“I was so scared to speak in college,” Linker said. “Then I saw Erik perform with such competence. He has encouraged me all the way, just like he does all of our club members. He inspired me to run for president. Whenever I speak now I get comments like ‘Awesome!’ and ‘Good job!’ I would not be here if it wasn’t for Erik.”

Bergman’s Toastmaster skills have highly benefitted his already prolific career as a business executive, and he plans to run for high Toastmasters office in 2014. He has also gained much local recognition for his Toastmasters activities, which he finds highly satisfying.

Certainly one of the most satisfying and unique areas of his Toastmasters work is with some very unlikely Toastmasters — the inmates of Oregon prisons. Yes, Toastmasters can even reach inside steel bars, although it is a little harder for Bergman to reach them, because he has to go through as many as seven sets of automatic doors at the state prison facilities.

“There are some very gung ho Toastmasters in prison,” Bergman said, “because it’s part of their rehabilitation. Once you get inside you just do your Toastmaster duties. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Coffee Creek women’s facility and the McLaren facility for young men. Those guys really need help to find their voice.

“It is very heartwarming to see someone who has committed a crime trying to rehabilitate themselves. Toastmasters serves them so well when they’re outside again.”

For more information, go to the WE Toasted Toastmasters site on Facebook or visit WE Toasted is open to the public. It meets every Thursday from noon at 1 p.m. at the company’s office on the fifth floor of 3 Centerpointe Drive in Lake Oswego.

Cliff Newell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

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